Wednesday, May 29, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: "Fast & Furious 6"

Fast & Furious 6

Just when you thought
maybe, just maybe the 
V-neck craze was 
fizzling, The Rock's
massive pecks and Vin 
Diesel's mammoth biceps 
have returned to the 
silver screen to bring 
the flava back home!

Those wacky, fast-driving, crime-busting misfits are back with an all-new thriller that once again will put movie goers on the edge of their seats... sorta.

Actually, the Fast & Furious franchise is a series of silly movies made for silly people who love silly movies. Hence, I made sure to experience the latest installment in short order. After all, the only real competition facing Fast & Furious 6 during its Memorial Day, summer blockbuster kick-off, opening weekend was The Hangover Part III, and not even someone as silly as me is silly enough to fall for that trick — again. Now, I'm not suggesting that F&F6 is the silliest movie ever. In fact, the plot was every bit as gripping as any in the Scary Movie franchise.

Street-racing fugitives fight international terror
 in this summer's comedic blockbuster.
Yo! Whadup? I'm Tej, and I gots mad technology.
(Now bring me some chicken and beer, bee-atch!)
The coupon said, "30 Minutes or Less," yo.
A film of this caliber requires an all-star cast of master thespians who can remain straight-faced while reciting comedic dialog. As a result, the acting was easily well above that of even the finest '80s porno flick. And I now know with absolute certainty where Tyrese Gibson will be, come Oscar night!

And what a value — the catfight scenes alone between Norah Jones and Gretchen Wilson totally made this epic worth the $7 admission price.

But seriously folks, despite the realistic aspects of the film (i.e., Vin Diesel flying through the air in the aforementioned V-neck, leaping from a speeding car, catching a babe with one arm and placing her safely atop another speeding car), the special effects and The Rock's non-enhanced, Hulk-like physique were simply incredible. Yes, Fast & Furious 6 is an amazing looking piece of work indeed. But most importantly, Paul Walker remains as cute as a bug's ear and Jordana Brewster is still hot enough to melt stone.

-Christopher Long
(May 2013)



C'MON! -

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Nicholas "Nicholas"

(Tate Music Group)

The self-titled debut from 
Nicholas is such a treat,
I'm seriously considering
sending him a lovely
assortment of bath soaps 
as a token of my gratitude.

To legions of rock fans throughout the U.S. and Canada, he's known as Nick Hildyard, the talented and charismatic multi-instrumentalist / frontman for the wildly popular Classic Albums Live touring group. However, to Christian music fans, the Central Florida-based singer / songwriter is known simply as Nicholas. And with his newly released record, Nicholas, he weaves the energy and passion of his sold-out concert appearances into the fabric of his Christian message.

Refreshingly not over-produced, Nicholas was produced by Josh Dougan and Nicholas in late 2012 at TMG Studios in  Mustang, Oklahoma. Boasting a subtle rawness, the record simply showcases a guy with great songs — and the guy is absolutely pouring his heart out. Nick's voice possesses such an honest Claudio Sanchez-meets-Justin Furstenfeld purity that he could be singing the phone book and it would be okay — whatever he's selling, I'm buying!

All eight tracks were written and performed by Nicholas. Completely free of ambiguity, his message is crystal clear throughout — he's singing about Jesus. And he's darn proud of it.

The debut record from Nicholas.
(A bona fide winner!)
"Everything" gets the record off to a strong start with to-the-point lyrics and a hooky melody — a  shining  moment  in a record filled with highlights.

You paid the price with 
your sacrifice Jesus, 
my reward. Your hands, 
the nails still you love 
me. Yes you love me.
(from "Everything")

"Morning Star" is a flat out rocker, punctuated by sharp, crunchy guitar work — possibly the best of the bunch.

The title, "My God is so Real" not only describes the message, but the music as well. This one is VERY real (and powerful)!

"If Only" and "Our Deliverer" are both stripped-down earworms that harken back to the golden singer / songwriter era. True gems, to be sure.

Despite being an acoustic-based tune, "The Things I Do" is edgy and it rocks with the best of 'em.

In sum, Nicholas is a bona fide winner. Kudos to Nick Hildyard for having the nards to so boldly speak truth with his music and for super-charging my spiritual batteries — at a time when I really needed a boost.

-Christopher Long
(May 2013)
Nicholas - Nicholas



C'MON! -

Monday, May 27, 2013

CLASSIC ALBUMS LIVE: Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy" (Guest Post)


"Guest blogger" 
Michelle Wilson
is at it again.
And with so
many shows and
so little time,
this hard core
rocker better get
the Led out!

Led Zeppelin's 
Houses of the Holy
King Center / Melbourne, FL (5.25.13)

(Photos: Michelle Wilson)
I’ve attended several performances of Craig Martin’s Classic Albums Live shows at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts, and the 2013 opening night of the series will be a memorable one indeed. This time around, the master musicians tackled Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album, Houses of the Holy, recreating the music "note for note, cut for cut." On this particular occasion, the night’s theme could be summed up in one word: LOVEFEST. There was such an outpouring of love for CAL fans on that stage that I wanted to sprint up from my front row seat and bear hug the entire band. After thanking our vets and our military men and women, lead singer Nick Hildyard cut right to the chase: “Melbourne, Florida has the best CAL fans anywhere! Thank you Melbourne — you kick ass!” And as if that wasn’t enough, bossman Craig Martin himself materialized on stage to introduce the band at the end of the first set and to thank Melbourne for ten great years, followed by a heartfelt hug from veteran drummer Rick Vatour. It was all smiles and feel-good emotions beaming out at the audience from remaining band members Dom Polito and Rob Phillips (guitar), Joe Clements (bass), Carol Hensal (keyboards), and of course, frontman Nick Hildyard.

Unlike most of the generic garbage being passed off as music today, Led Zeppelin put forth a sound that was unrivaled then and now. This was no crunchy pop band with two-and-a-half minute fluff tunes. These were dense, expressive sounds with pithy lyrics to match. The songwriting collaboration of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant produced some of the most prolific and life-changing masterpieces ever and their musical influence was and is far-reaching. Many bands will be long forgotten, but Led Zeppelin definitely is NOT one of those bands. CAL’s ever-faithful homage is one prime example.

After the band opened with a rousing rendition of “The Song Remains the Same,” they segued into a beautifully executed arrangement of my favorite Zep tune, “The Rain Song,” followed by “Over the Hills and Far Away” and “The Crunge.” (Where’s that confounded bridge?) Rounding out the rest of the album, the band continued with “Dancing Days,” “D’yer Mak’er,” and phenomenal versions of “No Quarter” and “The Ocean.”

After a short intermission, the potpourri showcase began with perennial fan faves “Dazed and Confused,” “Heartbreaker / Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman),” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Moby Dick,” which Hildyard dedicated to his young children in the audience. Other highlights included “Celebration Day” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” one of Hildyard’s best vocal versions, as well as the dreamy “Going to California” and “Misty Mountain Hop.” CAL generally does include some deeper cuts at their shows, and this was no exception. Fans were treated to “Night Flight," “I’m Gonna Crawl” and “Hot Dog."  “How Many Times” rounded out the encore and the crowd was on its feet to applaud yet another CAL performance.

-Michelle Wilson
(May 2013)


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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: She & Him "Volume 3"

She & Him
Volume 3

Even if this record sucked, I
could have at least enjoyed
the photos of Zooey included
in the CD insert. Fortunately, 
it's a masterpiece  easily
worth 10x what I paid for
it this morning at Starbucks.

Recorded at LA's legendary Sound Factory, Volume 3 is the latest and third non-holiday record from the dynamic duo, She & Him. The musical embodiment of the Reese's slogan, "Two great tastes that taste great together," She & Him combines the magical pop songs and angelic voice of Zooey Deschanel (vocals and keyboards) with the Big Al Anderson-inspired guitar work and production genius of M. Ward. In fact, if I could track him down, I'd show up at Ward's house and offer him a festive-looking congratulatory cupcake and a Hallmark greeting card with an inscription thanking him for knowing how to produce a pop record — vocals in the front, guitars in the back!

Volume 3 oozes 14 pure pop treasures — 11 of Zooey's and three covers. Simply put, it's fresh and fun, sweet and innocent, and so retro that it sounds new — reminiscent of early Blondie — before they, well, you know.

But a duo does not (necessarily) a band make. And Volume 3 features performances from a stellar cast of studio cats. Possessing a firm grasp of the "less is more" philosophy, Scott McPherson provides perfect drum tracks throughout the record and I personally was delighted to see bassist Joey Spampinato credited several times in the liner notes (NRBQ reference #2).

The opening track, "I've Got Your Number, Son," had me hooked at the :04 mark. And at :21, I knew that this was just the beginning of what was surely going to be a very long and monogamous love affair.

"Never Wanted Your Love" brought back fond memories of rock and roll trailblazer, Genya Ravan, circa 1978. Genya Ravan? Really? How is this even possible? Whatever planet Zooey and M. come from, I wanna go there, tonight!

One of only three non-Zooey-penned tracks, "Baby" (Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, George Morton)  could easily have been featured in the pages of my third all-time favorite book, POP SONGWRITING 101: It's About the Melody, Stupid — this track is a golden gem.

In "I Could Have Been Your Girl," Zooey channels Debbie Harry (à la "11:59") — another major highlight. And speaking of Blondie (again), The She & Him version of Chris Stein's "Sunday Girl" is a perfect remake. Dare I say that it's better than the original? Okay, well it's at least as great — even though I still don't know French.

YES - with sprinkles, please!
Another wonderful moment is the delicate and sultry remake of Harry Noble's 1952 classic, "Hold  Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me."

And the winner of Volume 3's "Best of the Batch" award goes to... "Somebody Sweet to Talk To." It's catchy, hooky, infectious — let's sing along, kids... I got the pieces if you've got the time!

In closing, a simple consumer warning: Volume 3 is laced with aural cocaine! Of course this could just be an endearing metaphor, but I must con- fess that I've now been on a three-day She & Him binger. I refuse to open the blinds or answer my door — and I can't feel my face. Now, play it again! Play it again! I said — "PLAY IT AGAIN!"

-Christopher Long
(May 2013)



C'MON! -

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "PROOF" by Jordyn Redwood

- Jordyn Redwood -
Kregel Publications
Pinned against the snow-covered
backdrop of the Colorado Rockies,
PROOF is a bona fide thriller. The
first in Jordyn Redwood's Bloodline
Trilogy, the story had me on the 
edge of my seat from start to finish. 

A serial murderer / rapist is on the loose — a heinous crime spree that's seemingly touching the lives of the entire staff at Sage Medical Center as well as a growing number of innocent victims throughout the Denver area. Time is of the essence, as he'll surely strike again — soon. So, whodunit? While your initial hunch may be confirmed at the halfway point, Redwood's story is just ramping up. It will take much more than reliable hearsay to bring this devil to justice — it's gonna take rock solid, ironclad PROOF. And as they say, "the devil is in the details."

Aside from a riveting storyline, PROOF's two primary assets are:

1) Compelling and well-crafted characters. I felt as if I walked away knowing (and caring) more about Dr. Lilly Reeves and Detective Nathan Long than I do about some of my closest BFFs. (Hey Nate! Grab me another cold Mountain Dew from the fridge, will ya?)

2) Redwood's expertise in the fields of Critical Care and Emergency Nursing combined with an impeccable knack for storytelling allows her to paint vivid, realistic and accurate accounts of ER drama and crime scene investigation.

I was also drawn particularly to the underlying faith-based sidestory — a powerful message of God's love and grace. But fear not, non-believers, the Jesus factor does little to compromise PROOF's  edge.

As I'd burned through to the last few pages, I breathed a sigh of relief — Ah, closure. I finally know how it's gonna end. Not so fast there, Hot Shot. Redwood will zing ya right up to the very end.

Simply put, I'm the latest and greatest Bloodline fan. Bring on Part II!

-Christopher Long
(May 2013)

Jordyn Redwood's 
Bloodline Trilogy
PROOF (June 1, 2012)
POISON (February 22, 2013)
PERIL (September 1, 2013)



C'MON! -

Sunday, May 12, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Tom Keifer "The Way Life Goes"

Tom Keifer
The Way Life Goes
(Merovee Records)

Tom Keifer is a true 
blue rock and roll 
treasure. And in 2013 
he exemplifies the 
axiom, "better to get
it right, than get it fast."

I still remember the Vicks Formula 44 commercial from years ago. An incredibly handsome actor looks into the camera and confesses, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV." An iconic line indeed. Tom Keifer could make a similar statement — "I'm not a hair band guy, but I played one on MTV."

The Pennsylvania-born singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist achieved worldwide, chart-busting success during the late '80s and early '90s as the frontman for the band Cinderella. Despite possessing the DNA of such hard-driving heavyweights as AC/DC, Nazareth and Aerosmith, Cinderella's platinum-selling 1986 debut, Night Songs, cemented the band's reputation as THE preeminent up-and-coming hair band. However, with the release of their distinctly more blues-based 1988 sophomore effort, Long Cold Winter, Cinderella seemed already to be distancing themselves from the rest of the arena rock pack. And by the time their third record, Heartbreak Station, hit Billboard's Top 20 in 1990, it had become abundantly clear that Tom Keifer's songs actually were more akin to Steve Earl's than to David Lee Roth's. An unfortunate example of guilt by association, Cinderella's fourth (and so far, final) record, Still Climbing, went relatively unnoticed as the band became caught in the crossfire of the infamous '80s rock extermination of the early '90s.

After a brief time-out, the band regrouped. And in the ensuing years, Cinderella has continued to enjoy enormous success — consistently selling out 10-20,000 seat venues as a must-see live act. However, seemingly boasting a "We will sell no wine before its time" mantra, Tom Keifer has bided his time in terms of releasing any new music since his MTV glory days. But in 2013, it appears that the time finally has arrived!

Produced by Keifer, along with his wife Savannah and veteran producer / engineer Chuck Turner, The Way Life Goes is gritty, organic and funky, and serves as a vivid portrait of an artist whose songwriting has matured over the last two decades while maintaining his signature style.

The record kicks off strong with "Solid Ground" — a soulful, gospel-flavored gem. With stellar back-up vocal performances from Etta Britt and Crystal Taliefero and the closing lyrics — I need some shelter. I need some shelter, it harkens back to Keifer's illustrious past.

"A Different Light" comes frighteningly close to crossing over into the spiritual realm — All God's children need a helping hand.  But you got to see before you understand. However, any perceived faith message is bathed in enough black lit ambiguity that you won't likely get any on ya. But it's one of the record's best.

"It's Not Enough" is also an infectious highlight.  It's clearly a down and dirty drug song (I think)  — I'm a burning Cadillac with a monkey in the back. Gotta feed him. It's not enough.  However, I'm uncertain as to which side of the issue it's taking.

Nobody captures honest emotion and bottles pure passion in a love song quite like Tom Keifer. Hence, "Thick and Thin" shines brightly — Be the truth in a world that's lying. Give up my last breath if you were dying. I'll stand by you. Thick and thin. As if it were a lost track from Still Climbing, this one is classic Keifer all the way.

In a similar, yet simpler vein, "Ask Me Yesterday" (co-written with Savannah Keifer and Jim Peterik) may be his best, most heartfelt tune ever. That's a huge statement to make, given Keifer's impeccable body of work. However, I stand by my words.

Featuring a special guest appearance by Jeff LaBar, "Mood Elevator" reads like a page torn straight from the Night Songs playbook and seems to point to what a new millennium Cinderella record might sound like...

I said, "Doctor — It's been raining and a pouring."
Wrote a prescription — said "Call me in the morning."
See what you're missing is just a shot of serotonin.
So good for fixin' anything that you got broken.
(From "Mood Elevator")

"Welcome to my Mind" is bluesy, dark and edgy.  If MTV was still around, this clip could be epic...

Sirens are whining — Monkeys are flying.
Walls are all closing in my mind.
Mirrors are screaming — Walk on the ceiling.
Oh what a feeling in my mind.
(From "Welcome to my Mind")

Another well-crafted Keifer ballad, "You Showed Me," possesses a little country twang and is one of several tracks on the record that tastes a bit like Sticky Fingers. Darn good stuff, man.

To make an authentic roots record, you need all of the essential ingredients. For starters, The Way Life Goes was recorded at various studios throughout Nashville. Keifer  provides all lead vocals as well as guitars and keyboards. He's also assembled an all-star cast of musicians: Greg Morrow (Dixie Chicks, Steve Earl) / drums, Michael Rhodes (Faith Hill, Reba McEntire) / bass, Tony Harrell / piano and organ, and Pat Buchanan (No, not that Pat Buchanan) / harmonica, guitars. The end result is a splendid, cohesive and well-produced record that absolutely was worth the wait.

-Christopher Long
(May 2013)

Don't miss this gem:



C'MON! -